I hate flying.
The thing I hate the most about flying is turbulence. Sometimes the turbulence has been so terrible on a trip that I have been jolted out of my airplane seat and spilled coffee on the person in front of me. Other times the turbulence has been constant, steady, relentless and ever present on a very long trip and I have just had to find a way to manage my anxiety and enjoy the trip regardless.
It seems to me that today we are living in times of global turbulence. Of course, you could say that our world is always in a state of flux and change, going through cycles of uncertainty. However, I think the events of recent times have produced in many people an underlying feeling of anxiety, fear and in some cases panic.
Events such as the massive waves of people moving from nation to nation due to war, xenophobia on the rise, extreme rightist movements gaining institutional approval, the trend towards “stronger” political leaders in Asia and the exit of the UK from the EU have all left us reeling. All of this amidst the rise of “lone wolf” and established terrorism has made us feel grieved, confused and shocked at the seemngly rapid emergence and escalation of these factors.
What must the church do? There is no quick fix with such complex issues, however, here are a few thoughts that have helped me as I have been reflecting my way through the turbulence.
Joe Carter in First Things says;
“Sentimentality….encourages us to “suspend judgment and reflection in order to indulge deliberately in emotion for its own sake.” Reflection reinforces and strengthens true emotions while exposing those feelings that are shallow and disingenuous. Sentimentalists, however, try to avoid this experience of reality and try to keep people from asking questions by giving them pleasing emotions they have not earned. The shameless manipulation of our emotions, says Jacobs, is the ultimate act of cynicism.”
As the world changes rapidly yet again, our temptation is to shelter under the warm blanket of sentimentality. This is all about nurturing a longing that we all have to return to an idealized past where the perception is that things were much better than the present. The Welsh even have a word for this: hiraeth. Global turbulence makes us long for a home we can never return to, or that never was. Click To Tweet
To be sure, feeling hiraeth is only to confirm that we are human. As Carter mentions, however, this focusing on warm emotions from the past keeps us from reflecting critically and honestly on present circumstances and engaging with our culture effectively. This then leaves us wide open to manipulation from people who have gains to make by capitalizing on our anxieties or fear of change. We can see a little of this sentimentality in Psalm 137 where the psalmist is longing to return to Jerusalem as he or she knew it.
Sometimes I wonder if this kind of sentimentality stopped the average Israelite from properly engaging in any kind of witness or mission in Babylon, their place of exile. Sentimentalism in the church can stop us from being effective witnesses today. Click To Tweet
Be a “wise one” on the edge of inside
I found an article by well known columnist David Brooks helpful regarding our posture in a world that is increasingly polarized. Many are calling this polarization a battle between the left and the right and this is also transferring into Christianity as wars for example between “Progressives” and “Reformed” continue and strengthen through our sometimes very public discussions with one another. Brooks advocates that we become people who are on “the edge of inside.” These are people who are neither on the outside of their group nor on the inside. As a result they are on the edge of inside. These are doorkeepers and are able to simultaneously understand the dynamics of their group, offer critique as well as learn from alternate groups even though they might be in disagreement with them.
Brooks quotes Richard Rohr and says;
In a world of extremes, we long wise who bring us back to the rapidly disappearing center Click To Tweet
“A person at the edge of inside can see what’s good about the group and what’s good about rival groups. Rohr writes, “A doorkeeper must love both the inside and the outside of his or her group, and know how to move between these two loves.”
Hopefully as this happens, we might be able to heal some of the unhelpful divisions that the current polarizing rhetoric is causing even in the Church.
Embody the alternate vision of the new creation
We must steadfastly preset ourselves as an alternative to the violence, hate, bigotry, racism, greed, sexism and narcissism that we see around us. This kingdom of God is here now, but will only fully manifest at the return of Christ. That means we need a clear and mission-oriented eschatology also. We must view the end times in the light of the fact that God is in the process now of “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) rather than God’s people being swooshed up to heaven at the return of Christ. The church needs an ecclesiology of being a parable of the alternate kingdom of God. Click To Tweet
This new, alternate universe will be material, grounded, urban and partly a continuation of what God has already begun in our world today. If this is true, then we need to embody this hope now in a world looking for assurance in turbulent times. Will we live out this alternate kingdom with a clear eschatology that reflects now God’s longing of restoration for this world?
Speak up on behalf of the marginalized and weak
In times of turbulence we are tempted to become more self-concerned which leads us to take less risks. Our fears drive us to obsess more with management, control, keeping the status quo and protecting our own. On a plane in times of turbulence, you are encouraged to take care of yourself first before you can help others. That might work on a plane, however, this is not a quality fit for the kingdom of God. We must, more than ever, speak up on behalf of the weak, poor and marginalized. Click To Tweet
These are the people that are being forgotten in times of change, fear and polarization. The poor are the first to get sidelined in times of instability. Professor Luke Bretherton puts this inclination we have towards self containment well when he says
“Theologically, phenomena like the rise of Donald Trump and the vote for Britain to leave Europe can be read as forms of immanent theodicy: the attempt to make sense of suffering, disorder and pain and the fear and anxiety they produce. But they are idolatrous forms of theodicy that, with a shrill petulance, cry peace for me and mine, whatever the expense for others.
They are attempts to deal with uncertainty and feelings of being overwhelmed by chaos through trying to re-establish prior regimes of control, while ignoring how these regimes of control and the prosperity they once produced were founded on violent disorder and destruction for others – particularly those judged racial and religious others.”
When we demand and “cry peace for me and mine” we are forgetting that the church lives for the sake of the world in the name of Jesus.
In these turbulent times which our world will always go through as it continually changes, could this be an opportunity for the church to shine like the stars in heaven and a moment for the people of God to behave as wise ones whose voices the world is longing to hear?